The Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
September 25, 2011; 18:00 IST
The Salt Lake Stadium will witness the first semi final of the 33rd Federation Cup on Sunday evening as the 2011 I-league holders Salgaocar SC take on the I-League second division champions Shillong Lajong. TheHardTackle briefly looks at the road to semi-finals for both the teams and previews their highly anticipated semi final clash.
Road to the Semi Finals
Shillong Lajong FC
Placed in Group A alongside the mighty Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers and Royal Wahingdoh, not many tipped Shillong Lajong to progress to the knockout stage. However, the perception of the football pundits changed dramatically once the group stage began as both the clubs from Meghalaya (Shillong Lajong and Royal Wahingdoh) taught a lesson to Mohun Bagan.
After wins against Steve Darby’s and Manuel Gomez’s men respectively, Royal Wahingdoh emerged as the surprise leaders of the group. Final day of the group matches saw Wahingdoh take on Shillong Lajong in the Meghalaya derby with the former needing only a draw to progress into the semi finals. The Reds knew that only a win with some assistance from Bagan could open the door for the semi finals for them and that is exactly how the story unfolded for the 2009 Federation Cup runners up. Pradyum Reddy’s team went on to score through John Menyongar minutes before the half time whistle which decided the match in the favour of Lajong. Mohun Bagan did their bit for Lajong by holding Churchill Brothers to a draw which not only earned them their first point of the group stage but it also sent Lajong to the first place in the group which confirmed their place in the first semi final.
Karim Bencherifa’s men were slotted against fairly easy opponents in their group but it took them two match days to come into their own. Mumbai FC held them to a stalemate on day one as Pailan Arrows picked up a win against HAL SC to go on top of group B. The Indian Champions went on a rampage in their second round fixture against the Bengaluru outfit HAL SC. The match was over before the half an hour mark as the Goan side went on to score thrice in the space of six minutes from 23rd minute to 29th minute sending their opponents into a completely defensive mindset. Sabrosa slotted in the fourth for the team in the fiftieth minute to send a message across to the young brigade of Sukhwinder Singh who went onto to win two in two after a 2-1 victory over Mumbai FC in the second round.
I-League champions took on Pailan Arrows in the all important deciding match on the last day of their group stage. Salgaocar took control of the match from kickoff as Chidi Edeh scored for them within the first three minutes. Arrows who needed only a draw to advance to the last four showcased some positive intent in the second half but were completely outplayed by their much fancied opponents who went to top the group after picking up an impressive 3-0 win over the young lads from Pailan Arrows.
Team news and tactical brief:
Lajong’s semi final against Bencherifa’s Goan outfit would be the real acid test for Pradyum Reddy and his men. The 2009 runners up will have nothing to lose and expect them to go all out against the defending I-League champions in the first semi finals of the 2011 Federation Cup. The fact that this will be an uphill battle for the men from North East is not hidden even from their coach Reddy. However, he was highly impressed by the effort his team has put in till now and said –
“We have come this far and from here on everything will be bonus. Our main aim is I-League and this tournament has given us a perfect build-up to the marathon tournament (beginning October 22).”
He also complained about improper scheduling of the event by the AIFF and questioned the point of holding the group stage matches in Pune when the semi finals and final are to be played in totally different weather conditions of Kolkata.
“We have played three matches in five days and then travelled all the way here to play on a completely new surface. It will definitely break the rhythm,”
– Reddy said.
The Meghalaya club will rely heavily on the speed and agility of their squad. Also they will be banking on the form of former Liberian skipper John Menyongar who has two goals to his name in the tournament so far, including the all important goal against Wahingdoh. Tuboi could accompany him in the attack if they decide to go on with a 4-4-2 formation. Passah and Khongjee are expected to form the backbone of their back-line with Zenith, Lyngdoh marshaling the troops in the midfield. Lalhlimthara might get the nod from Reddy to start ahead of their semi final clash after impressing against the Royals in the last match.
The Goan side is the outright favorite before Sunday’s match but they will certainly not be taking their opponents lightly – who have gained the tag of giant killers as far as the Fed Cup goes; especially after reaching the finals of the Federation Cup couple of seasons back.
Salgaocar started off slowly but hit the right form just when it mattered as will be entering the semi finals after a high of scoring seven goals in their last two matches. Defensively Bencherifa’s team has been water tight and are the only team who are yet to concede in the tournament.
Their Nigerian striker Edeh Chidi has proved to be a menace for the backline of their opponents so far in the tournament and leads the score sheet for Salgaocar with two goals to his name. With the twenty year old Goa boy Gilbert Oliveira alongside Chidi, their attack line is bound to test the back four of Lajong. Ryugi Sueko who top scored for the club in I-League last season was the chief architect for them in the middle of the pitch, he has continued on with his I-League form in the Fed Cup as well. The Japanese attacking midfielder has gelled in well with Chidi and their link up play could prove to be a nightmare for Reddy’s men.
Skipper Luciano Sabrosa has marshaled his troops impressively on the pitch baring the opening match against Mumbai FC. The Brazilian defender knows how to neutralize any attack at will but come this Sunday evening even he would have to remain on his toes as his opponents in the semi final thrive on pace.
Salgaocar SC (In green and white): 4-3-1-2
Shillong Lajong (In red and white): 4-4-2
1. Salgaocar SC last won the Federation Cup in 1997.
2. Salgaocar SC and East Bengal are the only two teams who have not lost a match in the group stage of the Federation Cup this year.
3. Defending I-League (National) champion’s have never gone on to win the Federation Cup.
Salgaocar SC 2-1 Shillong Lajong FC
TheHardTackle’s Player To Watch Out For:
Edeh Chidi (Salgaocar SC)
The former Mohun Bagan striker has linked up well with the midfield of Salgaocar and has faired well in his maiden tournament for the champions. The departure of Yakubu to Prayag United has left a major void in the forward line of the Goan outfit but Nigerian striker- Chidi, who is tipped my many as his replacement has started off really well. It is still early days for him with the SSC but if one has to go by his performance so far in the group stages, it seems highly unlikely that any defence will be able to stop the free flowing game of this twenty four year old in this tournament.